Can Facebook be used to effectively deliver social norms interventions? A discussion of Ridout and Campbell (2014)

As the technology available to disseminate messages to a population has developed so have the ways social norms campaigns can be delivered. In the early days of the approach campaigns consisted primarily of mass media campaigns in the form of posters and leaflets. As internet technologies became more pervasive there was a move towards incorporating online systems that can provide individuals with personalised normative feedback, such as in the case of Unitcheck[1].
Digital technology continues to evolve, and social media has become ingrained in the daily lives of many individuals. Facebook alone reported that in the first quarter of 2015 it had 1.44 billion active monthly users, an increase of 13% from the previous year. As Ridout and Campbell[2] highlight that alcohol related posts on social network sites can contribute to the perceived drinking norms of university students[3].  Yet whilst there is strong evidence to suggest that social media is an important medium for the creation and communication of perceived norms there is a lack of research into how to use these platforms for the dissemination of social norms campaigns. This is the issue addressed by Ridout and Campbell[2], who explored the use of the Facebook messaging system to deliver a social norms intervention to reduce problem drinking at a university. As they note the Facebook messaging system has a number of advantages over personalised feedback delivered via email, including the fact that Facebook is used more often by students than email[4]. In contrast to many regular email systems the Facebook messaging system allows the sender to easily see if their message has been read by the recipient. This helps resolve one of the challenges in delivering a social norms campaign, which is evaluating how successful the campaign has actually been at reaching the target audience.

Ridout and Campbell[2] were able to demonstrate significant reductions in frequency and quantity of alcohol use in an intervention group as compared to a control group; reductions were maintained at 3 month follow-up. In keeping with the expectations of the social norms approach participants in the intervention group demonstrated a reduction in their degree of misperception of peer alcohol use norms. Ridout and Campbell[2] show how social norms approach interventions can  make use of Facebook and other social media platforms that are pervasive in the lives of the target population. The continued success of the social norms approach requires campaigns to consider communication mediums of relevance to the target population. Ridout and Campbell have shown how social norms researchers and practitioners can adapt as technology evolves.

Dr John McAlaney, Bournemouth University, and Dr Bridgette Bewick, University of Leeds


  1. Bewick, B.M., et al., The feasibility and effectiveness of a web-based personalised feedback and social norms alcohol intervention in UK university students: A randomised control trial. Addictive Behaviors, 2008. 33(9): p. 1192-1198.
  2. Ridout, B. and A. Campbell, Using Facebook to deliver a social norm intervention to reduce problem drinking at university. Drug & Alcohol Review, 2014. 33(6): p. 667-673.
  3. Fournier, A.K., et al., Alcohol and the social network: Online social networking sites and college students’ perceived drinking norms. Psychology of Popular Media Culture, 2013. 2(2): p. 86-95.
  4. Judd, T., Facebook versus email. British Journal of Educational Technology, 2010. 41: p. E101 – 103.